Prussian General Staff

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Introduction

Already, Frederick William I, who reigned from 1713 to 1740, had restricted enrollment in the officer corps to Germans of noble descent. Furthermore, he had compelled the Prussian landed aristocracy to serve in the army.

When King Frederick II acceded the throne in 1740, he took over 37 generals from his father. From 1740 to 1763, Frederick promoted 274 staff officers to the rank of general.

Since 1740, the auditor general maintained a list of officers of the general staff. This list comprised generals and their adjutants, the quartermaster general and his officers, a few officers of the “War Commissariat” and a few officers of the army.

During the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-48) and the Seven Years’ War, Frederick II took part in all campaigns, commanding the main Prussian army in the field and being present with his army on the battlefields along with his officers and troops. While Frederick always commanded the main army, he appointed other generals as commander-in-chief in other theatres of operation.

In 1748, Frederick appointed Johann von Lehwaldt as commander of all Prussian standing regiments. On December 22, 1751, he promoted Lehwaldt to field marshal and charged him of the command of all troops in the Baltic provinces. Frederick also confided the responsibility of the frontiers with Bohemia, Moravia and Poland to Field Marshal von Buddenbrock who narrowly cooperated with the Minister von Schlabrendorff. Meanwhile Major-Generals von Tresckow and von Fouqué commanded the Silesian fortresses.

In 1752, Frederick appointed Pape as “Royal Secretary General-Adjutant”. In 1758, Galster succeeded to Pape in these functions, mentioning that he was head of the “Department of the Royal Adjutant General”. This department was also responsible for the administration of pensions and of the invalids. During the entire Seven Years’ War, Johann Christian Süssenbach of the Jäger zu Pferde acted as secretary of the adjutant general.

Secret War Council

Equivalent to a War Minister, this office was occupied from 1749 to his death, in 1782, by Ludwig von la Motte. His personnel consisted of 7 men.

Ranks of Senior Officers

General officers

There were several grades of general officers, in order of increasing seniority: major-general, lieutenant-general, general (of cavalry or infantry) and the prestigious field marshal.

Field Marshal

This was the highest military distinction. Field marshal were the most senior general officer rank in the Prussian Army.

During the Seven Years’ War, the Prussian field marshals were

General

Full generals were either General of Infantry of General of Cavalry.

Lieutenant-general

This grade was immediately subordinated to the general but superior to the rank of major-general.

Quartermaster General

The charge of quartermaster general was introduced in the Brandenburger Army in 1657.

In 1741, Karl Christoph Baron von Schmettau left the Austrian service and joined the Prussian Army. In 1743, Frederick appointed him quartermaster general. Schmettau was seconded by a lieutenant quartermaster: Wilhelm von der Oelsnitz.

The responsibilities of the quartermaster general were:

  • the gathering of information on the theatres of operation and on the enemy
  • the plans of march of the army and the marking of encampments
  • the supervision of the army
  • the preparation of winter-quarters

In 1752, Oelsnitz became lieutenant quartermaster general. By that time, Schmettau also had three lieutenant-engineers and a map maker under his command.

On December 22, 1756, Fredrick added 4 lieutenants quartermasters to Schmettau’s staff. However, this group was not yet designated as the “General Quartermaster Staff”.

Oelsnitz was killed during the siege of Prague in the spring of 1757. After the disastrous retreat of the corps of Prince August Wilhelm of Prussia from Bohemia to Lusatia in July 1757, Schmettau lost Frederick’s confidence and was appointed governor of Dresden. From then on, Gaudi assumed a wider role.

The staff of the general quartermaster survived. From 1761, Wilhelm von Anhalt assumed the role of general quartermaster in Frederick’s army without having any official title.

Major-general

This grade was immediately subordinated to the lieutenant-general.

Field Provost of the army

The provost of the army assumed a function of police as well as one of justice. He arrested anybody being in breach of the regulations. In 1742, Frederick appointed Johann Christoph Decker as “Field Provost of the Army”. In 1757, the charge remained vacant until February 1758 when Karl Andreas Friedrich Balck succeeded him.

Aide de camp

Senior officers had aides-de-camp (Flügeladjutanten), to help them in their duties. These aides-de-camp were also part of the staff.

Frederick always employed aides-de-camp to assist him. Furthermore, from December 1759, he also employed “Officers of the Royal Suite”.

By March 1760, Frederick had 18 aides-de-camp, 3 lieutenants quartermasters and 7 officers of the Royal Suite.

Captain of the guides

In these days, there was not yet a permanent unit of scout attached to the staff.

At the outbreak of the Seven Years’ War, the charge of “Capitaine des Guides” was created and Friedrich Wilhelm Ernst von Gaudi was appointed to this function which was subordinated to the quartermaster general. He was responsible for providing messengers and placing signposts along the roads. To assist him, 12 men of the Jäger zu Pferde served as guides for the marching columns of the army.

Engineer-in-chief

Engineers were always part of the staff of the army or of the corps to whom they were attached.

Administrative officers

Department of the Royal Adjutant General

As aforementioned, in 1752, Frederick appointed Pape as “Royal Secretary General-Adjutant”. In 1758, Galster succeeded to Pape in these functions, mentioning that he was head of the “Department of the Royal Adjutant General”.

During the entire Seven Years’ War, Johann Christian Süssenbach of the Jäger zu Pferde acted as secretary of the adjutant general.

The department of the adjutant general was responsible for:

  • the administration of pensions and of the invalids.
  • the preparations of inspections and manoeuvres, accompanying the king to these events
  • the supervision of the entire staff of the headquarters during campaigns

The Jäger zu Pferde and the Feldjäger zu Fuß were directly subordinated to the adjutant general.

Adjutant General

During the four first years of the Seven Years’ War, Frederick had no personal adjutant general, assuming his role by himself. From 1758, he appointed Moritz Franz Casimir von Wobersnow as his adjutant general. After his death in action at the Battle of Paltzig in 1759, he was succeeded by Colonel Hans Friedrich von Krusemarck who retained these functions till 1768

Intendant

In 1741, after the Battle of Mollwitz, Frederick appointed Georg Konrad Baron von der Goltz as intendant responsible for the provisions of the army. Goltz died on August 4, 1747. Colonel Wolf Freidrich von Retzow of the Grenadier Garde. He was also charged to administer the House of the Invalids, and, from 1749, of the military orphanage.

In 1756, Retzow was appointed General Intendant of the Prussian Army. Among the functions of the general intendant were:

  • to plan the timely provisioning and moving of magazines
  • to establish the field bakeries
  • to plan the march of the columns transporting flour
  • to regulate the movements of bread wagons from the field bakeries to the armies
  • to regulate the transport of the sick and wounded

After Retzow’s death, on November 5, 1758, he was succeeded by Colonel Ernst Leberecht von Arnstedt in these functions which he assumed till the end of the war.

Arnstedt supervised the war commissioners responsible for the supply of the three Prussian field armies in Saxony, Silesia and Pomerania. He was directly assisted by 2 majors and 1 captain.

Uniforms

General officers

In the Prussian army, general officers were also chefs of a regiment and wore the uniform of officers of this unit.

For instance:

...and so on.

General officers who were not associated to a specific unit, as Field-Marshal Keith, would wear the uniform of the “Officers of the Army” described in the next section.

Officers of the Army

Some general officers had no regiment associated to them. In this case, they could wear the uniform of officers of the last regiment in which they had served or, as in the case of Field-Marshal Keith, wore a generic dark blue uniform without distinctive colour associated to the “Officers of the Army”.

Other general officers were in a situation similar to Keith’s. For example, officers transferring from foreign services, staff officers or administrative officers unrelated to any regiment, some retired veteran officers. In these cases, they probably wore a simple uniform as the one describe for Field-Marshal Keith. However, the uniform of the “Officers of the Army” was not standardised before 1764.

References

Duffy, Christopher: Friedrich der Grosse und seine Armee, Stuttgart: Motorbuch Verlag, 2009, pp. 210-222

Jany, Curt: Geschichte der Preussischen Armee vom 15. Jahrhundert bis 1914, Vol. 2, Osnabr{uck, 1967, pp. 198-210

Wikipedia - German General Staff

Acknowledgment

Michael Zahn for his assistance and access to his collection.